Posted by: Green Knight | January 28, 2012

Bee Healthy, Eat Your Honey?

That was a semi-sleazy bumper sticker back in the old days, along with the “Fly United” poster showing two ducks mating while in flight. But this is, umm, like, really SERIOUS, because it involves the potential collapse of a large part of our food supply. I’ve been following the progress of the decline of honeybees worldwide, known as “colony collapse disorder,” for some time, and there are several potential causes, all of which probably contribute to the problem in a synergistic manner.

Now, we must first remember that the honeybee is not native to the Americas; it was imported, but it’s been here for a long time. Our native pollinators, such as bumblebees, other insects, bats, and certain birds, are all in trouble as well (especially bats, with the still-mysterious “white nose syndrome,”),  so switching back to them isn’t the solution either, or perhaps even an option. The government’s laissez-faire and fast-track approach to approving new pesticides without adequate study is an unfortunately long-standing tradition even in Democratic administrations…surf the Hazard Hot Sheet for my past comments on FIFRA.

But a new article I just read is rather shocking. Dr. Mercola publishes a ton of stuff, a lot of which I like, and some of which I question, plus he has his own vitamins and supplements to sell, so I never know quite what to expect when I read his latest (but he also has Dr. Becker the veterinarian along for the ride, and I always love her stuff). I have friends who are beekeepers, other friends who just like bees, and in ancient Celtic cultures it was considered lucky to have one fly into your house. Plus, Sherlock Holmes, a favorite of mine whom I played once at a haunted house, retired to become an apiarist. So bees are cool in all sorts of ways.

Bees are also important. They pollinate a huge percentage of our food crops. We should ALL be concerned about what’s happening to them, and this article gave me much “food” for thought, pardon the pun. I also find the sources referenced to be credible (except for the weak, industry-funded “studies”), and as a scientist, I give it a thumbs-up. [By the way, I’m not “anti-business,” I’m just “anti” industry greed at the expense of public and environmental health and safety.]

One thing I found interesting is that monoculture, by eliminating weeds or even other food crops in a farmed area, is reducing the variety of pollens that bees need to “bee” healthy. YOU don’t eat the same thing every day, do ya? (well, engineers would eat peanut-butter sandwiches forever, but that’s another story…look for an upcoming post on peanut allergies.)

Another thing I found a bit shocking was how much “honey” is on our shelves that isn’t really honey. The processing takes out all the pollen grains, which is where most of the health benefits come from. I always used to tell my students that honey is good to combat allergies, because the semi-broken down pollen can almost act like a vaccine against whatever pollen you might be allergic to (unfortunately for me, I’m allergic to mold, which is year-round vs. seasonal, and eating that old piece of bread isn’t gonna help). But the worst was that our friends the Chinese make fake honey that doesn’t have any honey in it at all, and the FDA doesn’t stop it at the ports of call. Why? Because we must cut down on big government

As I’ve said before, it’s fashionable to rant against spending, until it’s you or your kids that are at risk or actually getting harmed. Then, the govvie is perceived as being unresponsive, those lazy (read “underfunded and underequipped”) bastards. Gaps in the gestalt, as usual. I saw it all the time when I was a state hazardous waste inspector. People who normally would bitch and moan about the 1/4 cent tax to fund us would go nuts if a leaky 55-gallon drum of green mystery materials showed up in THEIR back alley…then we couldn’t get there fast enough to suit ’em, and they were upset that we couldn’t always just load it into a truck and drive off into the sunset with it. “Well, sir, we have this thing called a ‘really tight budget,’ and this one doesn’t meet the criteria for removal under the emergency fund, let alone the normal fund, both of which have been severely depleted and hamstrung by the way YOU vote.” Field inspectors have to learn to be diplomats; I luckily already had the knack, and never got shot, but there were a couple of close calls. Appeals to reason aren’t that effective with a concerned but uninformed citizenry. That’s why I teach.

Rather than retype all the information in the bee article here, I shall just post the link. I really hope people will read the entire thing. I haven’t looked at the embedded videos myself yet, but the text is alarming enough. Check it out and let me know what you think; this ties in so many environmental factors and disciplines, and regulatory agency stuff, and politics, that it refreshes my reasons for and interest in being in this business in the first place, and it’s things like this that reinvigorate my commitment to the mission.

Bobby McFerrin’s old song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” needs an update, perhaps to “Worry, hope Bee Happy” or something.





  1. A feeling of helplessness can overwhelm people when they read about the extremely important information you are sharing, because the issue is so big. Remember, a million small steps can get us as far a one huge step, and is easier to accomplish in one’s own life.

    Here are a few small suggestions that people can use to help turn things around:

    1. Stop using pesticides of any kind on one’s own lawns, flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Companies will only switch to healthier alternatives if we hit them where it hurts, in the checkbook.

    2. Consider supporting alternative political parties that espouse keeping our environment livable. For example, support the Green Party, whose platform revolves around safe business practices, and a healthy environment.

    3. Join an online organization called and start a petition to have that fake Chinese honey banned from US stores.

    4. Choose charitable organizations that fight for environmental laws, like NRDC. The money you contribute is tax deductible, and these lawyers are fighting for environmental issues such as: saving natural areas, protecting endangered species, banning bad business practices, like fracking, protecting the use of renewable energy, and much more.

  2. It is very easy to blame pesticides for every unknown disease. The Mercola article is full of inflamatory language that makes me suspicious. The latest in the search for the cause of colony collapse disorder in bees is that a parasitic fly may be the cause. See:

    This new insight will have to be studied by the tools of science by impartial practictioners not rabble rousers from the environmental activist community.

  3. Totally correct, doc. That’s why I said, ab initio, that I have reservations about Mercola’s stuff. For decades we wondered why amphibians were declining, and we discovered that the cause was chytrid fungus. However, was it a new speciation of fungus (which is unlikely), or a combination of other environmental factors that made the frogs and newts more susceptible to it? That could include pesticides, and all the other new things we’re introducing into the environment. I’m sure you know from past readings of this blog that I’m not a rabble-rouser; I attempt to provoke rational thought, reasonable discourse, and fresh approaches to problem-solving.

    We are at the same impasse with bat decline. Is the white-nose fungus the cause, or just an opportunistic symptom? Our problem is that we don’t have the luxury of time to find out some of this stuff, so a conservative, conservation-minded approach, to me, seems eminently logical.

  4. BC. thanks for the very informative blog and attached articles. I found your readers’ responses interesting as well. Keep up the good work, this topic needs more public attention to make sure we have the best science applied to finding a solution.

  5. Thanks, Steve. Dr. Sims is a fellow botany guy, like yourself, and it’s nice to have both of you adding comments. If I ever fully understand the Krebs cycle, I’ll be ready for the firing squad.

  6. It’s going to be finish of mine day, however before ending I am reading
    this enormous article to improve my knowledge.

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